‘Nothing disturbing in the clauses of draft EIA 2020’, says RP Gupta
The environment ministry has been swamped by nearly 200,000 objections to and comments on the draft environment impact assessment (EIA) notification of 2020, but doesn’t intend to hold further discussion on the concerns raised in the feedback it received.
RP Gupta, secretary in the environment ministry, told Jayashree Nandi in an interview that the priority for the ministry is both EIA notification and a notification on monitoring and compliance of projects with environmental clearance conditions, which is being drafted.
Here is the full interview:
Q: How will you read so many comments on draft EIA 2020 and how will responses be incorporated in the final draft?
RP Gupta: We have formed a committee to sort out all the mails. They are sorting issues not looking at each mail. Almost 95% of the 17 to 18 lakh emails we have got are repetitive mails.
Q: Is it true that the person heading your committee already heads a committee that deals with project violations (post-facto clearances) in your ministry?
RP Gupta: We will be dealing with all the issues raised. I am not sure who is heading it. Let the committee perform its duties first.
Q: Why do you think there was such a massive public and political outcry against draft EIA 2020? What is so disturbing or contentious about the clauses?
RP Gupta: I don’t think there is anything disturbing in the clauses. You are right about political issues. Maybe it has nothing to do with an environmental agenda but more to do with political agenda.
Q: Why does the environment ministry see draft EIA 2020 as an important regulation?
RP Gupta: We must see it in an overall context rather than looking at it in isolation. We are a country that takes a lot of time in issuing environmental clearances. We have very poor enforcement and monitoring of projects. No amount of scrutiny can substitute for the monitoring. You can scrutinise a project for five to six years and delay it but if you don’t monitor it, then it will remain environmentally unfriendly. We need to switch this equation. We should be quick in giving clearances. There should be very strict and regular monitoring and we should come down heavily on non-compliance. This notification is only the first part. We are developing a monitoring mechanism which will be the second part.
Taking more time increases a project’s time and cost, and we force the industry to construct without obtaining clearances. To discourage violations, the best way is to ensure fast-tracking of clearances.
Q: But the draft is talking about regularising these violations.
RP Gupta: Post-facto scenario happens when someone has started a project without taking prior approval which is the norm. So if an industry is in violation, what is the punishment? Will it have to be closed down and cannot be apprised? There is nothing in law which says you will not appraise it on merit. After appraisal, if you find a project cannot be approved then you close it down. If it can be done, the approval will be effective from the date it was given. For the past period which is a violation, a penalty has to be imposed as per law.
Q: Why have you exempted so many projects from public hearing in the draft?
RP Gupta: It’s been 14 years since EIA was introduced (in 2006). We have to use experience gathered to further rationalise the clearance process. Every project doesn’t need to come for public hearing for environmental clearance. A small project or industry need not come unless they are very polluting. These projects will still have to meet the laid down norms for air and water pollution. Let’s focus on bigger projects now.
Q: Will there be any space for discussion on draft EIA 2020?
RP Gupta: Concerns will be considered on merit. There is no requirement for discussion. That will open another Pandora’s Box. Then nothing will happen in future. Everything can be stifled.
Q: When can we expect a notification on monitoring of projects?
RP Gupta: Soon. Statutory clauses are being worked out.